The Staple Diet of the Platypus

The Yuen Chong 371 is a funny little stapler from the 1960s. But staplers rarely make people’s hearts race, and this one was no exception. Yet, the Yuen Chong 371 is still the world’s best known stapler, thanks to its crucial role in the creation of the children’s cartoon Phineas and Ferb. The series’ creators, Dan ‘Doofenshmirtz’ Povenmire and Jeff Marsh, were …

There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Car

Italian media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi began his political career in 1993, as leader of the Forza Italia party, and in 1994 he became Italy’s Prime Minister. No. In actual fact, Berlusconi had already dipped his big toe in the pool of Italian politics ten years earlier, in 1983. To ensure his election in 1984, he promised that every Italian who …

The Sound of Intoxication

The microfauna was an instrument to collect microorganisms from the air, invented by Nikola Tesla in 1879. It worked much like a mass spectrometer. When connected to a microfauna data recorder, it enabled scientists to determine the exact composition of the air. Unlike the mass spectrometer, it did so in terms of microorganisms, rather than molecules. The microfauna was, and …

Pigtails, Duckbills and Roasted Guinea Pigs

The invention of the duckbill speculum in 1845 revolutionized gynaecology. Up until then, doctors had been using the bills of actual ducks (usually dead ones). American doctor and animal rights activist J. Marion Sims felt there had to be a better way and set out to find it. After numerous experiments on volunteers (South Carolina slaves volunteered by their owners, …

America's Next Top Model

Scientists have always relied on models -simplified renditions of reality- to help them understand, explain or predict. Over the past decades, more and more of these models have been replaced by digital versions, which are said to be more accurate and flexible. A few traditionalists remain sceptical, however, as computer models don’t always yield the desired outcomes. They still prefer …

The Multi Blower that Multi Sucked

The Philips HK 4250 Multi Blower was invented in the late 1960s, when consumerism had hit its first ceiling: every household in the First World had bought every variety of appliance they could ever possibly need. With World War II and its hardships still fresh in people’s minds, nobody was willing to replace things before they broke down. Sure, the …

Reinventing the Wheel

The device we call a labeller or label maker today, was initially presented to the Swiss patent office in Bern as a ‘travel typewriter’ -and variations of this name in French, German, Italian and Rhaeto-Romance- from 1961 to 1963. Its inventor, Giancarlo di Saronno Originale, was a creative genius, but not a very practical one. And it was precisely the …